Teacher background information


Year 10 Science Content Description

Science Understanding

Physical sciences

The motion of objects can be described and predicted using the laws of physics (ACSSU229 - Scootle )

  • investigating how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples achieve an increase in velocity and subsequent impact force through the use of spear throwers and bows (OI.5)

This elaboration describes opportunities for students to learn how the laws of physics can be applied to explain the effectiveness of hunting tools used in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Students investigate how variables such as mass, dimension and force influence the acceleration, velocity, reach and impact force of the projectiles used in combination with spear throwers and bows. By studying the design features of traditional hunting tools, students gain an understanding of the laws of physics that govern the motion of objects. At the same time students have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the highly developed scientific knowledge, inquiry skills and engineering abilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The development and use of light weight spears and spear throwers in mainland Australia and bows and arrows in the Torres Strait Islands many millennia prior to European contact are clear evidence that Australia's First Nations peoples were able to recognise patterns and trends in data and demonstrated a good understanding of the relationship between the mass of the spear (dart/arrow/projectile), the force applied to it, and its velocity, range and impact force. 

A spear thrower acts as a lever that extends the throwing arm, causing the wrist rotation to increase the velocity of the spear. This allows the hunter to not only throw the spear further, but as the kinetic energy of the spear increases with the square of the velocity, it also increases the striking force of the projectile. 

A bow and arrow works by a different physical principle, as it makes use of the elastic potential energy that is stored in the bow when drawn. Upon release, this energy enables a greater acceleration of the arrow than could be achieved by hand.  

Ultimately, it depends on the distance of the target and the impact force that needs to be achieved to determine which of these two methods, bow and arrow or spear thrower, is more effective. It is well documented that many Aboriginal peoples of mainland Australia find the spear thrower, which enables greater impact force at a shorter range, to be more effective against large marsupials. Torres Strait Islander peoples prefer the bow and arrow, as it is more suited to hunting smaller prey, which requires less penetrating force, and can achieve greater range.  

An investigation into the mechanics of the traditional hunting methods of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples allows students to deepen their understanding of the physical laws that govern the motion of objects. It not only provides students with an authentic context that requires the application of the laws of physics, but also allows students to learn about the ingenuity and the scientific knowledge of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In the construction of this teacher background information, a list of consulted works has been generated. The consulted works are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. To access this information, please read and acknowledge the following important information:

Please note that some of the sources listed in the consulted works may contain material that is considered culturally offensive or inappropriate. The consulted works are not provided or recommended as classroom resources.

I have read and confirm my awareness that the consulted works may contain offensive material and are not provided or recommended by ACARA as classroom resources.

The following sources were consulted in the construction of this teacher background information. They are provided as evidence of the research undertaken to inform the development of the teacher background information. It is important that educators recognise that despite written records being incredibly useful, they can also be problematic as they are often based on non-Indigenous interpretations of observations and records of First Nations Peoples’ behaviours, actions, comments and traditions. Such interpretations privilege western paradigms of non-First Nations authors and include, at times, attitudes and language of the past. These sources often lack the viewpoints of the people they discuss and can contain ideas based on outdated scientific theories. Furthermore, although the sources are in the public domain, they may contain cultural breaches and cause offence to the Peoples concerned. With careful selection, evaluation and community consultation, the consulted works may provide teachers with further support and reference materials that could be culturally audited, refined and adapted to construct culturally appropriate teaching and learning materials. The ability to select and evaluate appropriate resources is an essential cultural capability skill for educators.

Allen, H. (2011). Thomson’s spears: Innovation and change in eastern Arnhem Land projectile technology. In Y. Musharbash & M. Barber (Eds.), Ethnography & the Production of Anthropological Knowledge (pp. 69-88). Canberra: ANU E Press.

Baugh, R. A. (2003). Dynamics of spear throwing. American Journal of Physics, 71.

Cotcher, J. (n.d.). Atlatl lessons Grades 4-12. Retrieved from http://mathcentral.uregina.ca/RR/database/RR.09.07/cotcher/atlatl/index.html

Davidson, D. S. (1936). The spearthrower in Australia. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 76(4), 445–483.

Dick, A. (2004). Spearing fish and refraction of light: Alaska Science Camps, Fairs and Experiments. Retrieved from http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/publications/Alaska_Science/Spear.html.

Flood, J. (1983). Archaeology of the dreamtime: The story of prehistoric Australia and its people. Sydney: Collins.

Hrdlicka, D. (2004). How hard does it hit? A study of atlatl and dart ballistics. Retrieved from http://www.thudscave.com/npaa/articles/howhard.htm

Kleiner, K. (2002). Neanderthals’ strong-arm tactics revealed. New Scientist. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3085-neanderthals-strong-arm-tactics-revealed/

Monroe, M. H. (2013). Australia: The land where time began: Aboriginal weapons and tools. Retrieved from http://austhrutime.com/weapons.htm

Palter, J. L. (1977). Design and construction of Australian spear-thrower projectiles and hand-thrown spears. Archaeology in Oceania, 12(3), 161-172.

Poiner, I. R., & Harris, A. N. (1991). Fisheries of Yorke Island. In R. E. Johannes & J. W. MacFarlane (Eds.), Traditional Fishing in the Torres Strait Islands (pp. 115-143). Hobart: The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Division of Fisheries.

Whittaker, J. C. (2010). Comment on Shea and Sisk’s ‘Complex Projectile Technology’. PaleoAnthrophology, L7-L8.